Tent trailers are not that much different from their hard sided brethren. They both have refrigerators, liquid propane (LP) gas ranges, water heaters, forced air furnace, power converter; and in some cases, even an air conditioner ! The largest difference is that tent trailers are built with an eye for light weight construction and materials including the appliances, accessories and running gear. One result of this effort to achieve such a light weight trailer is the increased amount of preventive maintenance for the basic trailer and the care and repair of the vinyl walls and bed roofs
Let’s review the basic checks common to any RV. The LP gas system must be tested once a year for leaks, rubber hose abrasion and that the system has the correct gas pressure of about eleven inches water column. The electrical system includes the 12Volt Direct Current (VDC) and 110Volt Alternating Current (VAC). The 12VDC side of things operate the 12VDC lights, the control electronics in the appliances and, in combination with the towing vehicle, the tail, brake and clearance lights.
Some of the larger tent trailers also have electric brakes which have an emergency activation switch on the trailer. The 110VAC systems in tent trailers is usually limited to the power converter which charges the batteries, 110VAC power receptacles for household type appliances and power to the refrigerator. Some larger tent trailers have microwave ovens and even a small air conditioner which operates from 110VAC. The appliances in tent trailers operate and are tested once a year the same way as in the larger hard-side travel and fifth-wheel trailers. The water system is limited in a tent trailer to a very small fresh water tank of ten to twenty gallons and a city water connection. In some units there is a shower stall combined with the toilet floorpan. In most cases there is not a permanent toilet with a black tank in tent trailers, in fact in several models there isn’t even a portable potty supplied. Where there is a black tank it is usually combined with the gray water tank and has a capacity of around 20-30 gallons.
Now let’s look at the systems and tests that are different from the hard-sided RV’s by following the set-up and close-up of a tent trailer. Most tent trailers use a crank lift system which has a winch very similar to the type found on a small boat trailer. The purpose of the lift system is to extend the roof and sidewalls of the trailer. The weight of all this is several hundred pounds so the lift system must be very strong and light weight at the same time. The key to the smooth extension of the roof and sidewalls is to have the tent trailer as level as possible before beginning the set-up. This will prevent binding as the roof is extended and also ensure that the top of the trailer is level when the entrance door and sidewalls are attached.
The following steps are the normal sequence for putting up a vinyl sided tent trailer; be sure to refer to the instructions that came with your tent trailer. After the roof is extended fully go to one end of the trailer and locate the bunk strap under the end of the bunk and pull the bunk out part way. Do not extend it more then twelve inches or you take the chance of bending the bunk slide rails. The normal stow position for the bunk support poles is under the mattress. Remove them from their storage location and insert one end of each pole into the socket on the frame of the trailer. Now pull the bunk our slowly while supporting it’s weight. When the bunk is completely extended lift the end of the bunk slightly and hook the end of the support poles into the sockets under the bunk. Now release the weight of the bunk onto the support poles. Notice that the bunk is actually being supported by the support poles beneath it, not by the slide rails. Now go to the other end of the trailer and extend the bunk at that end the same way as the first. It makes no difference which end you start at. After the bunks are extended and braced you need to go into the trailer and put the counters, cook-tops and galley into position.
Each tent trailer manufacturer tries to ease the set-up of the trailer by hinging the heavier counters so that all you have to do is swing them into position from their normal storage position on the floor. Check to see that the hinges are securely fastened to the counter and the counter bottom. When checking the galley counter look at the water hose connections and the hoses themselves to make sure that they are tight and haven’t been kinked during transit. A trick here is to lay a section of non-slip matting on the floor under the hinged counter when it is stored. This prevents it from becoming marked-up and also greatly reduces the tendency to slide and pull against the hinges while the trailer is moving.
The next step is installation of the entrance door which is best done by two persons. In most cases, the door is held to the bottom of the roof by clips or a Velcro type materiel. From the inside of the trailer one person swings the door down so that the bottom pins fit into the lower door section. The second person is outside the trailer and places the locking pins into the lower door section. The inside person then pushes on the upper hinged plate until it is flat against the side of the roof and secures it with the fasteners set in the top of the door. Before you open the door look at it and the frame to make sure that they are even and square to each other. If they are not square to each other have the second person adjust the bunk support bows.
Take a look at the Velcro type tape on the vinyl materiel by the doorway. This should attach the vinyl walls to the upper door frame. The Velcro should be firmly fastened to the vinyl without tears or loose ends.
The next step is extend the walls and roof the bed platforms. There is a brace that you must install to support the vinyl roof materiel over the bed. Abrasion is a problem in this area so check that there are no rips or pin holes where this bar goes. This support bow can be tensioned to adjust for changes in tightness of the roof materiel. Next the vinyl wall is attached to the sides of the bed slides. A safety note here. The vinyl wall material is permanently attached to the bed area only at the end of the bed slide. The side walls are normally fastened to the sides of the slide with Velcro. If you put small children or infants on the bed and the Velcro materiel is not securely fastened the child can crawl out the side of the trailer.
At the end of the bed slides there are elastic cords that apply tension to the ends of the roof and wall material. Over time these loose their elasticity so check to see if they need to be replaced. The last of the wall set-up is to wrap the wall material around the telescoping lift arms and secure them with the Velcro.
The stove can be used inside or outside of the trailer. When used inside it simply sits on a shelf designed to hold it. To use the stove outside it must be hung on mounting studs on the side of the trailer and the flexible LP gas line routed to the outside of the trailer where it will connect to the stove. A word of caution here. Do not overload the stove in the outside position with your favorite thirty pound cast iron fry pan, you may wind up with dinner and stove on the ground when the mounting studs break off.
Closing the trailer down is the exact opposite of the opening sequence. Remember to support the bed by hand when taking off the bed support poles. Watch when closing the beds back into the trailer that the materiel is not caught in the slide tracks. Be sure to have the wall and end materiel completely inside the trailer before closing the roof. After the roof latches have been secured put a slight tension on the cables by cranking the lift handle. This keeps the cables from slapping and becoming damaged during transit.
OK, you’ve done everything correctly in extending and closing the trailer, but somehow there is a leak – not to fear, we can fix that easily. For those pin-hole leaks in the vinyl materiel or along the sewn seams you want to use Plasti Seam which is designed for these types of leaks. For small holes and tears the product of choice is Vinyl Liquid Patch (VLP) which will repair holes in the quarter to half inch in size and also does very well on tears. For the larger holes in life it’s hard to find anything better then the Doughboy Patch Kit that can patch holes up to four to five inches in size. These kits can be found in RV shops that deal Carefree of Colorado awning parts, hobby shops and in plastic swimming pool stores.
How about one of those new-fangled hybrid units that have solid walls with “Tent trailer” tip or slide-out bunks. I’ve even seen this type of construction used in pick-up slide-in campers. The setup and maintenance is about the same as the standard tent trailer without the hassle of putting up the roof and installing the door. Neat !
Tent trailers fill a unique niche in the RV lifestyle. They are inexpensive, allow the use of a light weight car or truck to safely pull them and most important, they let us remember when we first started tent camping with our families – without having to carry the tent on our backs !
Later – –
The Old Ranger